BYU in the 1970s
In “The Feminine Mystique”, Betty Friedan wrote about the “problem with no name”. Women (mostly middle class white women) had left the workforce after WWII to work full time at home. And yet some women found themselves unfulfilled and often depressed. Some had lost their identity by devoting their lives to their husbands and children.
It’s been years since I read her work, but Friedan argued that with all the time saving devices available, it was not as necessary for women to say home full time.
I’ve been reading the discussion of “Fascinating Womanhood” recently on Feminist Mormon Housewives. I myself own a copy of Fascinating Womanhood. Holly of Self Portrait As has discussed the book before, and even recently had a great article published about it.
I never attended BYU, nor did I attend BYU during the 1970s.
But my Mom did. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so open about her experiences on the internet, but she was in an engineering major until she transferred. I’m not sure why she transferred, exactly, and it may just have been my Mom. She transferred to a degree in social work. And after I was born, she chose to stay home.
But I have read many first person experiences of women from the time, and many were encouraged (subtly or not so subtly) to leave the pre-med/engineering programs to make space for men. The assumption was that they (the men) would need to support their families. The idea was that as soon as a woman got pregnant, she would drop out to stay home with her child.
One of the quotes from the FMH post was:
Rather, the point was, It wasnt like that. The 70s in Utah were actually a very supportive environment for women to get an education and fulfill their potential.
I hope Naismith and others will join us here to continue the conversation.
I would agree with this if fulfilling one’s potential meant finding a way to be a mother, and becoming educated in careers that would compliment being a mom.
I cannot say if things have changed since that time. I’m assuming so, since women can now wear jeans on campus. So it’s possible that I am misinformed about the real discrimination that women might have faced at BYU.
Of course there are vastly different experiences. But I believe some generalizations can be made.
The only reason I bring this up is, it’s important to talk about the past and history as it really happened. Ezra Taft Benson did encourage women to return home in 1986.
[I]n the Doctrine and Covenants, we read: Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken (D&C 83:2). This is the divine right of a wife and mother. She cares for and nourishes her children at home. Her husband earns the living for the family, which makes this nourishing possible. With that claim on their husbands for their financial support, the counsel of the Church has always been for mothers to spend their full time in the home in rearing and caring for their children.
We realize also that some of our choice sisters are widowed and divorced and that others find themselves in unusual circumstances where, out of necessity, they are required to work for a period of time. But these instances are the exception, not the rule.
(please feel free to read the entire talk for context).
I remember quite a few women and their families who agonized over that policy. I remember hearing quite a few testimonies about the topic. This is a choice that many families (from that era) had to struggle with – to reconcile their faith with what was best for their family.
I think it is absolutely appropriate to talk about what those decisions meant for those women and their families, and what those decisions mean today. I disagree that BYU was a supportive environment for women, all their choices and their potential. I disagree it was a supportive environment for men (and all their choices) as well. By discussing the way things were, we are informing the future and how things might change. Why does the discussion about women, their choices and their experiences always seem to devolve into a debate about working at home vs. a career? Is bringing up the past a threat? I think it is true that the person who controls the past controls the present.